Friday, November 23, 2012

The Truth About Leadership - Kouzes & Posner

The Truth About Leadership is written by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner (2010). This blog contains leadership tips and leadership insights taken from this book. I highly recommend you grab a copy of this book, which is a great read and provides a decent broad sweep of the topic of leadership.

  • After critically analysing over a million respondents to a questionnaire Kouzes and Posner found that age made no difference on whether a leader was effective or ineffective. It is worth noting, that the context of leadership may change, but the content of leading (and how to lead) changes only slightly (page xvii). The fundamentals of leadership barely change, regardless of context!
  • It is much easier to write about leadership than it is to practice leadership (page xxv). I must agree with this. I could rattle off theory on emotional intelligence and how strong leaders are emotionally intelligent people, but to practice that theory is a step up from merely communicating about it.
TRUTH 1 on Leadership: You Make a Difference
  • Is leadership accessible to anyone? Yes. 'Leadership is much more broadly distributed in the population, and it's accessible to anyone who has passion and purpose to change the way things are' (page 5).
  • The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership (Kouzes & Posner) are
    • Model the Way
    • Inspire a Shared Vision
    • Challenge the Process
    • Enable Others to Act
    • Encourage the Heart (see page 13)
  • Marianne Williamson once wrote: 'Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us....Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you....And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.'
TRUTH 2 on Leadership: Credibility is the Foundation of Leadership
  • After years of research (Kouzes & Posner) amongst varied demographics, people groups, etc, one characteristic continues to rate the highest on what people seek most from great leaders: Honesty. People will willingly follow, good, honest leaders.
  • The top 4 characteristics of admired leaders are being honest, forward-looking, inspiring and competent (page 21).
  • Credibility is built when your actions and your words are consistent. See also John C. Maxwell on the Law of the Picture. He picks up on the same thing. 
--> Also have a look at the TOP 100 Leadership Tips here.

TRUTH 3 on Leadership: Values Drive Commitment
  • Kouzes and Posner quote Olivia Lai who writes, 'Becoming a leader is a process of internal self-discovery. In order for me to become a leader and become an even better leader, it's important that I first define my values and principles. If I don't know what my own values are and determine expectations for myself, how can I set expectations for others? How will I convey confidence, strong will, and empathy? Without looking within myself, it's not possible for me to look at others and to recognize their potential and help others become leaders' (page 32).
  • The authors quote another emerging leader, 'You have to understand what you really believe deeply. People won't follow you, or even pay much attention to you, if you don't have any strong beliefs' (page 33).
  • Values are what drive you, they are the essence of who you are. They affect every facet of your life, including things like whether you return the extra money the sales assistant gave you, or where you will invest your time and energy.
  • Values will drive your commitment. To drive this point home, Kouzes and Posner quote Arlene Blum, an experienced mountain climber. She said, 'As long as you believe what you're doing is meaningful, you can cut through the fear and exhaustion and take the next step' (page 35).
  • Some interesting research from Kouzes and Posner, show that if people have clarity of organizational values, but low clarity on their own values, their commitment to the organization will be lower than if they had clear personal values, but were unclear of the organizational values!
  • Integrity is maintainted when your personal values align with organizational values.
  • Leaders are good at building and affirming a 'community of shared values' (page 43).
TRUTH 4 on Leadership - Focusing on the Future Sets Leaders Apart
  • The Truth About Leadership speaks of people who dream, who believe for a better future. The difference between a dreamer and a leader, is the leader takes 'dreams seriously and act to make them happen' (page 45).
  • Remember I mentioned the top 4 characteristics of admired leaders (above), and only second to honesty, is forward-looking.
  • Future-minded leaders know how to envision the future (page 50). In fact, they spend more time in the future (page 51). Leadership requires an element of being visionary. Also, see my post on 'What is a Visionary?'
TRUTH 5 on Leadership - You Can't Do It Alone
  • We are reminded by Kouzes and Posner, that, 'no leader single-handedly ever gets anything extraordinary done' (page 62). Leadership is always best expressed in a team context. In fact effective leadership is not effective without others!
  • Kouzes and Posner begin discussing the importance of emotional intelligence and how good employers seek to employ people who are good at working with others. They quote Egon Zehnder who writes that all the evidence, '....clearly demonstrated that the classic profile organizations look for in hiring a senior executive (relevant experience and outstanding IQ) is much a predictor of failure than success, unless the relevant emotional intelligence competencies are also present. In fact, serious weaknesses in the domain of emotional intelligence predict failure at senior levels with amazing accuracy' (page 64).
  • The point is, IQ is quite often overrated! You need emotional intelligence! Leaders must know who to interact with others! Kouzes and Posner write, 'When leaders are in tune with the emotions of others, they create resonance between leader and constituent and among constituents, much like the musicians in an orchestra create resonance when their instruments are in tune' (page 65-66).
  • This chapter is saying more than just having people along side you in order to achieve a vision. Good leaders  help others feel more confident and capable.
TRUTH 6 on Leadership - Trust Rules
  • Trustworthiness is a component of credibility (page 75).
  • The Truth About Leadership highlights four actions to keep in mind in relation to developing trust.
    • Behave predictably and consistently
    • Communicate clearly
    • Treat promises seriously
    • Be forthright and candid
TRUTH 7 on Leadership - Challenge is the Crucible for Greatness
  • Think about any leader and you can probably think of challenges that came their way; whether it be poverty for Mother Teresa, war for Winston Churchill, injustice for Martin Luther King Jr; challenge is present.
  • Brick walls test commitment and can strengthen resilience.
  • 'It takes determination and strength to deal with the adversities of life and leadership' (page 99) and this is what Kouzes and Posner label as grit. They quote Angela Duckworth who writes that grit is, 'perseverance and passion for long-term goals'
  • The authors assert that learning doesn't take place in the absence of mistakes. I would rather assert that leadership is strengthened when you learn from mistakes. Challenges are the building blocks to great leadership.
TRUTH 8 on Leadership - You Either Lead By Example or You Don't Lead at All
  • Kouzes and Posner like the phrase, 'Do what you say you will do'. Other ways of putting it are, practice what you preach, walk the talk, put your money where you mouth is, etc (page 107).
  • Tony Simons (a professor) calls this 'behavioral integrity', and he firmly believes that research shows that managers who lead by example and followed through on promises and demonstrated good values, were better leaders than managers who scored low on these aspects.
  • Good role models will always trump bad role models and good leaders understand this!
TRUTH 9 on Leadership - The Best Leaders are the Best Learners
  • Research completed by Bob Eichinger, Mike Lombardo and Dave Ulrich report that the best predictor of future success in management is 'learning agility'. They define learning agility as, 'the ability to reflect on experience and then engage in new behaviors based on those reflections (page 123). They are then quoted as saying, 'Learning agility requires self-confidence to honestly examine oneself, self-awareness to seek feedback and suggestions, and self-discipline to engage in new behaviors' (page 123).
  • The crux of the chapter in The Truth About Leadership is that if you want to be a better leader, then have the discipline to learn! You need to have what psychologist Carol Dwech labels as a 'growth mindset'. This is, 'based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts' (page 124). You can grow, and therefore you can learn, and your can improve in your capacity as a leader. If you fail to believe that simple princple, then you will not bother reading and learning.
  • There's no fast track to success. You don't become an expert pianist by looking at piano keys! Deliberate practice is needed. A great reminder, that as Jim Collins labels it, fanatical discipline is required.
  • Deliberate practice has five elements:
    • It is designed specifically to improve performance
    • It has to be repeated a lot
    • Feedback on results must be constant
    • It is highly demanding mentally
    • It is not all that fun (pages 128-130) See also Geoff Colvin, Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else (2008).
TRUTH 10 on Leadership - Leadership is an Affair of the Heart
  • Without heart, leadership is void of something essential. No one wants to follow a leader who is not inspired by the path in which the leader wants others to embark on. Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt (author of Freakonomics) write, 'When it comes to choosing a life path, you should do what you love - because if you don't love it, you are unlikely to work hard enough to get very good' (page 146). I would note, if you don't love it, you are unlikely to be fulfilled in life, and you will be very unlikely be able to motivate others to follow your cause.

Let's finish this outline on The Truth About Leadership by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, by quoting them, 'Leadership begins when you believe in yourself and that you can make a positive difference in the world' (page 159).


Find more extensive blogs on leadership here, written by Pete Brookshaw.
Also: What's the difference between a manager and a leader?


Receive Pete's Blog Posts via email (below):
Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

1 comment:

  1. Great book Pete, apply it, and you will become a gold leader.... Oh, oops, I see you already have applied it, and are already gold.... Sweet.


Popular ALL TIME Posts